We All Feared GDPR, But Here’s Why It’s Actually Making Us Better Marketers

90% of the data in the world, says a report from IBM Marketing Cloud, has been created in the last two years alone. That amounts to 2.5 quintillion bytes a day. 

It’s not the intention of EU lawmakers to stem that flow of data. But rather, the intent is to ensure that, with GDPR, at least the most sensitive and personal parts of these 2.5 quintillion bytes aren’t stored or used for targeting and profit.

And, that any targeting and profit that occurs does so with the consent of the user.

It’s a cognitive era we’re living in — from voice interfaces to AI-enhanced analytics — and the increased reliance on data as the singular unit of information that forms and powers this cognition is calling for a critical look.

Gone are the days of wild-west, open-frontier attitudes towards aggressive data capturing and collecting.

And so GDPR was born — or, rather, forced out into the world, leaving every tech company and, really, any business that performs any transactions, interactions, broadcasting, distribution, collecting and advertising online absolutely scrambling.
Which, at this point, is just about every single business making any kind of money, with any sort of plans for future growth.

Cue: a mad rush to email every single subscriber on the list and notify users of changes to privacy policy on a Friday (since GDPR officially rolled out on May 25th, 2018), and the score of articles whose responses seem to have anticipated an amusing spike of searches like, ‘What does GDPR mean for my company?’ (much like the influx of ‘What is Brexit?’ searches after the vote).


Source: ‘EU GDPR: Are you ready for it?’, CA Technologies

But in all this, we seemed to have missed something.

There is a culture of fear brewing around GDPR — but what are we so afraid of? Instead of yet another article outlining what you should implement lest you incur a €20 million rap on the knuckles (or 4% of annual global revenue, whichever is greater), the thing we’re missing here is the opportunity.

See, for marketers, GDPR is a good thing. It’s also an inevitable thing — and not because Cambridge Analytica got caught with its hands in a cookie jar and now all the kids have to stay after school for detention.

Rather, it’s because of the inherent shift in digital marketing, consumer trends and the major technology shifts already here to stay.

Source: SAP Transformation Study

What U.S. Companies Should Know About GDPR

The first question U.S. companies ask themselves is if GDPR applies to them. The ‘blanket’ response is, yes. If you do business in Europe, it does.

But the detailed answer is a little more complicated.

Companies like Facebook and LinkedIn have already taken pains to move their non-European audiences’ and customers’ data to a separate jurisdiction, outside of Europe, a surefire jump at legal mitigation.

And, given the lawsuits already filed (but have yet to be litigated), it comes as no surprise that GDPR has made many cautious, at best. Smart MBS has a helpful checklist for U.S. companies who are wondering what happens if they don’t comply.

So how do you know if your company is affected?

Before its official launch, The Scope Weekly took a look at its impact on U.S. business But what has happened since?

source: Rakuten Marketing


The language of GDPR is maddeningly vague, which makes the culture of fear understandable. Critics also say that, precisely because of the broad language used, companies will have to invest in potentially significant technological changes to ensure compliance.

A Data Revolution or a Revolution in Data?

There are three broad zones you should keep in mind if you’re a U.S. company required to remain compliant with GDPR:

  • Reduce the amount of data you’re stockpiling, especially where that data can be used to recognize and target individuals.
  • Next, make sure that you’re keeping customer data records that are collected up to date. Any older data must be destroyed when replaced by newer records
  • If a user is no longer using their services, companies must destroy records of their data.

Truly Customer-Centric Marketing

So why is GDPR a good thing for marketers?

Robert Rose, writing for the Content Marketing Institute, put it best: ‘GDPR isn’t about giving up personal data, it’s about caring more about the data being given.’

So, with that in mind, let’s see how marketers are poised to take advantage of GDPR and why GDPR’s ‘rules’ are simply responding to the way the market is shifting anyway.

Owning the Micro-Moment

First off, demographic ad-targeting is a thing of the past. Not only is it, for all intents and purposes, one of those things that GDPR frowns upon, it’s also becoming increasingly obsolete. That’s not to say that it’s not working — just that, we, as marketers don’t need demographic data or data that specifically singles out ‘Sally’ or ‘John.’

With increasing amounts of the global population coming onto the Internet and then winding their way to social networks, what we need is the ability to forecast trends and see major patterns in large swaths of data.

The other move of significance, somewhat poetically contrasted against large datasets, is what Google calls ‘micro-moments.’

No longer is demographic data a good indicator of whether a customer will convert or, indeed, what their preferences even are. Instead, to get more granular with insight and gain a sense of their decision-making habits, marketers will need to examine behavioral data.

For example:

Outbrain takes it one step further and asks their users if they know the difference between a customer’s ‘social’ interests and their authentic interests?

So, go ahead GDPR: Stipulate that we can’t store customer data and that we can only store limited amounts of data.

Marketers are moving on (and should move on) to behavioral, decision-making choices as the next ways to target consumers.

This type of targeting ends up eliciting better and more consistent conversions, brand positioning and marketing messages.

It also helps us zone in on the parts of a population that, like the graphic above shows, we might have missed because we’re operating on a particular profile or user persona that comes with its assumptions.

Behaviour is data. It gives us a window into persuasion.

Craft emotional, content-driven experiences

What is a customer’s expectation right now? And what is coming around the bend that will heighten those experiences?

Our brains crave novelty. You can thank the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain associated with reward-related learning. Think Pavlov’s dog. It lights up when we’re craving something, and it loves uncertainty.

It’s why voice interfaces are so alluring to us. It’s not only the appeal of the ‘new.’ It’s also the fact that our brains are hardwired for variability and the unpredictable.

Emotional, content-driven experiences are the next stage of inbound or pull marketing. Rather than pushing content out, ‘pull’ marketing draws a customer in by giving them high-quality, authoritative and trusted pieces of content that are creative, innovative, engaging and, above all, hopefully, variable. 

For marketing purposes, the confluence of new technologies and the focus on emotional, content-driven experiences means a more subtle form of persuasion.

While GDPR may have told us what we can’t use anymore, forcing us to get more creative, the truth here is that the market is shifting towards companies positioning themselves as a trusted source anyway.

Incorporating ‘next best action’ marketing

And so the theme of customer-centric decision-making paradigms continue, now with new-and-improved ‘next best action’ marketing. It’s a very smart and, actually quite scalable way to make more use out of your marketing dollars.

When Jeff Bezos said that the backbone of Amazon is a customer-centric culture, he maybe had an inkling that this would be its outcome.

The next best action marketing meets the customer right where they are in the buyer’s journey, with an action uniquely primed and positioned to gain the most out of that particular interaction. All the time, marketers are aware that this is just one step in a series that will eventually nurture and coach a customer to convert.

This means the interaction doesn’t have to be a hard sell. If a customer is only at a ‘pain aware’ stage, your marketing tactic might be to send them a Tweet or re-tweet something they shared. Suddenly, they know you exist.

If they write a laudatory review on a local directory site or they happened to ‘Like’ a laudatory review, you could follow up with a message of ‘Thanks’ or an offer for a discount.

According to the Harvard Business Review, ad-targeting is going to be the one area where GDPR’s laws will cause marketers to re-think their strategy. They say that

[f]or many, the answer will lie in contextual advertising.

‘For instance, if a New York Times reader is looking at a digital article about “Game of Thrones,” he might see a contextual ad placed by HBO reminding him when the new season will air. Similarly, when he’s scrolling down his news feed and pauses on a friend’s post about a new pair of basketball shoes, Facebook might alert marketers in real time and sell ad space alongside the post to the highest bidder – an ad position of high interest to companies like Nike or Reebok.’

Contextual advertising, however, will increasingly (and inevitably) start to rely on the power of real-time data analytics, predictive modeling and even AI-powered intelligent platforms, poised, positioned and primed to make customers’ true intentions more visible and more actionable while making marketers’ teams more lean and strategic.

About the Author

Dan Smullen is an SEO executive at the multi-award winning Digital Marketing Agency, Wolfgang Digital. By day, you can find him crawling, fixing and helping companies turn their customers search into found. You can find more of his blogs over at the Wolfgang Digital Blog or find him on twitter retweeting the best of SEO articles.

Tags from the story
Written By
More from Dan Smullen
Google May be Planning to Banish Websites from its Ecosystem
Do the Internet Giants Plan to Banish Websites from their Ecosystem in...
Read More
0 replies on “We All Feared GDPR, But Here’s Why It’s Actually Making Us Better Marketers”